For Sunday’s act of love, I prayed for our marriage for fifteen minutes per my weekly custom. For most of that time, I prayed something that I’ve continually prayed throughout 365 Acts of Love: that God would turn our hearts toward him and each other.
On Friday, I read Ephesians 5:25-33 to us:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
In this passage, husbands are being called to a high (impossible?) standard: to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Although I might never have the opportunity to die for you, I’m called to sacrifice for you daily.
What are some ways I can do this? When you’re tired and would benefit from relaxing a bit, I can watch the kids. When you’re sick, I can take care of you. When we come home from grocery shopping, I can bring our food in for you. When you want to watch Pride and Prejudice but I want to watch LOTR, I can say to the former, “Yes. A thousand times yes!” When we’re both in bed and we realize that we left the back door unlocked, I can get up to lock it. When you need someone to talk to, I can put aside whatever I’m doing to listen. When I’m exhausted but haven’t done my act of love for the day, well, dagnabbit, I can stay up until I do it. I can give you a massage even when I don’t feel like it. I can remain faithful to you and pure. I can work hard, day after day, to provide for you. I can put your needs above my own. I can regard you as more important than myself. I can do all this in order to serve you, not to gain points with you or in expectation that you’ll do something for me. I can do these things and much more because I love you. And I can do them as long as we live.
And if I do these things, my love might just dimly reflect the unsurpassingly great love that Christ showed for us.
In the course of our marriage, I’ve read many hundreds of books and articles, but until I started 365, I hadn’t read much on marriage (shame, shame). In fact, as of a week ago, I hadn’t read a single book on marriage. That’s changed. For my 102nd act of love, I read (over the course of several days) Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. His book refined my view of marriage and was an excellent and interesting read.
In the coming days, I may post some of my thoughts on Keller’s book. For now, here are some things Keller said about selfishness that stood out to me:
Self-centeredness is a havoc-wreaking problem in many marriages, and it is the ever-present enemy of every marriage (56).
Self-centeredness by its very character makes you blind to your own while being hypersensitive, offended, and angered by that of others. The result is always a downward spiral into self-pity, anger, and despair, as the relationship gets eaten away to nothing (57).
If two spouses each say, “I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,” you have the prospect of a truly great marriage (65).
In light of Keller’s thoughts on selfishness, here’s a summary of what I’ve learned regarding my own selfishness through 365 Act of Love. Before 365, I was blinded by my own selfishness into thinking that I wasn’t all that bad and that you needed to turn yourself around. But 365 is changing that. I’m recognizing that selfishness is opposed to love and is death to marriage. (I knew that before, but merely intellectually.) I’m recognizing how selfish I am and the problems my selfishness causes for us. Now, I’m working (and God in me: Phil 2:12-13) to fight self-centeredness with self-sacrifice in order to reorient my heart. I know I’ve touched on these things before in this blog, but I can’t help but discuss what God’s been doing in my heart through 365.
For my 94th act of love, I composed a prayer for us for 2012:
I pray, Father, that in 2012 you would increase my wife’s and my love for you, for each other, and for others. May we love and desire you above all else. Help us to hate evil and cling to good (Rom. 5:9). I pray that our love would bring unity to our marriage, and that we would cast enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy far from us. May we live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:20).
Work love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into our hearts (Gal. 5:22-23). May we be patient, kind, humble, slow to anger, others centered, and forgiving (I Cor. 13). Help us live in purity of thought and action (I Thess. 4:3-5). I pray that we would continually dwell on those true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things (Phil. 4:8).
As you work love into our hearts, I pray it would overflow in the giving of ourselves—our time, energy, money, etc.—to those in need. I pray that we’d look to each other’s interests as well as the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). May we be children of God without blemish, shining as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15).
I pray that we would not lose heart, but would press on by your grace in 2012 (Phil. 3:14). In all this, may we please and glorify you (I Thess. 4:1). Amen.
Last night, I attempted to ingrain the characteristics of love into my mind by memorizing I Corinthians 13:4-7. Here it is, from memory (except I drew a blank on the word ‘resentful’):
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I’m saturating my mind with a correct understanding of love, in order that I might be transformed into the kind of person from whom loving acts naturally flow (Rom. 12:2). (There’s more to transformation than this, but renewing your mind is certainly part of it.) I don’t want to commit loving acts for you through gritted teeth but from a loving heart (not that the latter is characteristic of the way I act).
“Love must be sincere” (Rom. 12:9).
For my 82nd act of love, I humbled myself before you by giving you this apology letter:
This weekend I didn’t love you as I should. Though you showed me grace, I often spoke carelessly and acted inconsiderately. Our weekend was great, to be sure, but it would have been better if I hadn’t acted selfishly. Will you forgive me?
I love you and wish I would continually treat you well. May I rejoice in you–a loving doe, a graceful deer. May I ever be intoxicated with your love (Prov. 5:18-20). May you be more pleasing to me than wine (Song of Sol. 4:10). As Christ gave up himself for the church, may I give up myself for you (Eph. 5:25).
As the letter indicates, I had a tough time loving you this weekend (but you’re so darn lovable!). Selfishness and pride flowed out of me, though not as freely as before 365 Acts of Love. May I consistently love you, not just act lovingly once a day for 365.
Not only is it tough to consistently love you, it’s tough to consistently do 365. Every day I have to plan a new act of love, execute it, and write about it. But as Coldplay says in their whiny tone: “Nobody said it was easy.” In addition, isn’t this exactly what I wanted: to daily consider and mull over and reflect on how to love you? Still, it’s tough.
But consider what God did for us. When he said he loved us, he wasn’t just whistling Dixie–his love resulted in actions that cost him greatly. The Lord of all creation made himself a servant. The Creator became a creature. The all-powerful God became a helpless babe in order to be slain for us. Consider this passage from Philippians 2:
[Christ] . . . being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Truly, the incarnation is evidence of God’s great and sacrificial love for us (I Jn. 4:9).
What’s the evidence of my love for you? Am I moving beyond just whistling Dixie? Let’s put consistent action to these words of mine! Though it’s tough, I need to will to love you in spite of my desire to be selfish. I cannot do this without God’s grace. By the end of the year, perhaps God will so mold my thoughts and desires, that willing to love you will be second nature. Or if not, perhaps it will be easier than it is now.
PS: I must give credit to our pastor for inspiring this post with his sermon.
One of my goals for 365 Acts of Love is to undergo significant heart change. I want to become a tree that produces good fruit (Mt. 7:17). In order to facilitate this, I fasted for 24 hours on Friday, praying that God would make me a more loving person. Specifically, I prayed that God would change my heart so that I possess the qualities and commit the actions that are characteristic of love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Cor. 13:4-7)
If God forms me into a more loving person, this will have a positive effect on the way I treat you, and thus, on our relationship. May I consistently work toward this end.
On day 34, I prayed that God would change my heart. Yesterday, I prayed that he would change yours. This was my prayer:
I praise you, Father, that in your wisdom you placed my wife and I together. Help me to value her for the treasure that she is. She’s diligent, working all day to care for her children and staying up every night to keep up our home. She’s wise and kind. She has compassion on the needy. I praise you that she’s all these things and much more.
Lord I pray that she would love you with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. Help her fear you, the creator and sustainer of the universe, the one who holds her life in his hands. Let her magnify your name in our family and among our friends and neighbors. May she place you above all things.
I pray that she would love me, even when I don’t deserve it. Give her grace to continually do me good, and not harm. May she remain faithful to me throughout our marriage. Increase her gentleness and patience with me.
Grant her strength and love in caring for our children. May she be kind and gentle with them. Let her joy continually bring light to our home and marriage. Fill her heart with peace.
Already you’ve given her with all of these things. Please give them all the more.
I’ve caused you much pain in the course of our marriage, whether intentionally or not. My tongue is one of my primary instruments in this regard. Sometimes I say something careless and it causes you pain. Sometimes I say something mean, whether premeditated or not, in order to cause you pain. And a few times in our marriage, I’ve said things so hurtful to you that, even now, I bow my head in shame as I consider them.
Last night, I sat you down and listed these and other sins I’ve committed against you and asked for your forgiveness. You forgave me. I then asked you whether you could think of anything else for which I needed to ask for your forgiveness. You couldn’t. But you brought up some wrongs you’ve committed against me and asked me to forgive you. I forgave you. When we finished, I laid my head on your lap as you sat on the couch, and I fell asleep. I don’t know whether our forgiveness talk had anything to do with this, but my sleep was deep and it was sweet.
On day 49, I took the girls to a church function while you stayed home to rest. When we returned, you had a plate of chocolate cookies, a glass of hot chocolate, and a love note waiting for me. Thank you for your loving act!
Later that evening, we listened to a sermon by John Piper called “Marriage Lived to the Glory of God” (http://tiny.cc/hh4lp). I chose this for my 49th act of love to remind us that the glorification/magnification of God is the primary purpose of our marriage. According to Piper, marriage exists for God, not vice versa. In fact, “everything exists to magnify the worth, truth, value, beauty, and greatness of God.”
In order for us to glorify God the most–which should be our goal–we need to be most satisfied in Him. Only then will we be able to love each other as we should. Only then will our marriage be deeply satisfying. This means we must pursue God, love God, cherish God, magnify God, etc., above all things, even each other.
In light of Piper’s sermon, I want to love God more than I love you. That doesn’t mean I need to love you less than I do now, just less than I love God. (Neither does it mean that I currently love God as I should.) If I love God with all my heart and love Him more than I love all else, I’ll be able to grow in my love for you. May I love you less to love you more.